Thailand: The Bathroom Talk

Now, you should be warned, I am not afraid to get real with you on this blog. My mission is to give you an in-depth look at Thai life, and in this case, address one of the most frequent questions I get the first time someone’s “gotta go”: How does this work? What do I do?

In the US, it’s easy. Walk on in, do your do, wipe, flush, and move on. Maybe the most annoying aspect might be that the person before you didn’t replace the toilet paper roll…

Here it works a little bit differently. You never know what you are going to find when you go looking for a bathroom in Thailand. You might open the door and find a Western-style toilet, or a squat toilet. You might find toilet paper, or you might only find a bidet.

If you have never encountered a squat toilet before, it could be challenging the first few times. Actually, the ease of the experience is highly dependent on the flexibility of your legs. Many Westerners struggle with squatting—it is not a position we find ourselves in often—and the result of our awkwardness is falling backward. This is not particularly ideal in a bathroom situation, so I recommend maybe practicing squatting a few times before heading to Thailand so you get the hang of it. If your confidence level is not where you would like it to be, just make sure to find something to hang onto. 

Next to the toilet, there will be a bucket of water with a bowl floating in it. This is what you will use to flush. Do your do, and then dump a bowl or two of water on top, and it should flush everything away. 

Some very interesting research has come out recently about the benefits of using a squat toilet over a Western toilet—and honestly, I prefer them. Don’t be scared—with a little practice, you will be a pro. 

Bidets are a very rare find in the States, but this device is everywhere in Thailand. They are also commonly found in Europe, so you might have come across them before. Basically, it’s a little hose attached to any Western toilet, that you use to clean yourself. Just a little spray and you are good to go. Try not to spray water everywhere on your first few attempts, though the worst that will happen is that everyone will know you lost the battle with the hose, and you will get a few giggles. 

No matter what you find, here are a few things you should know.

  • No Toilet Paper in the Toilet!

    Most important! Toilet paper does not go into the toilet. Not what you’re used to, I know, but the plumbing in the country wasn’t built to handle the paper. Instead, get in the habit of putting it in the plastic rubbish bin nearby. It may take a while to change your probably lifelong habit, but try not to forget. 

  • Shoes for the Toilet

    There are such things as toilet shoes. They’re not everywhere, but in many places you will see rubber flip-flops outside the door to the toilet. Take off your shoes, and find a pair that is the closest to fitting your feet. I cannot speak for the men, but with my massive feet, I always get a good chuckle at the fact that none of these shoes come anywhere close to fitting me… but I manage an awkward, crooked, walking-on-tip-toe style, that gives anyone I run into a little giggle as well. If you do not see flip-flops waiting at the door, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s OK to just wear your own shoes. If you use toilet shoes, however, do not forget to switch back to your own shoes when you leave! 

  • Pay to Use

    At public bathrooms, you might have to pay a few baht. No one is trying to scam you, and I have only ever had to pay less than 5 baht for a trip, but don’t be surprised if someone stops you from entering until you pay up. Your few baht pays for the upkeep and cleaning of the bathroom (often someone’s full-time job). Actually, I am usually stoked to find one of these places, because it means that the bathroom will be extremely clean from the meticulous attention it receives. Note: Most of these places will have toilet shoes, so keep an eye out. 

  • Slippery!

    Because many of the bathrooms in Thailand are actually wet rooms (meaning there is no separation of space between toilet and shower), you are going to come across a lot of water on the floor. Know this going in, and make sure to to roll up your pants, or pull up any fabric that is low hanging. While it may not be that big of a deal after your shower at the place where you are staying, it can be a little gross when in a public place. All this wetness also means the floor is really slippery. I have skated my way across many a floor—you have been warned. 

  • Hông náam yòo têe năi?

    I think point number 5 should actually be one of the most important things a person with a small bladder should know before arriving in Thailand: how to ask where the bathroom is. Just say, “hông náam?” (bathroom). If you want to get fancy you can say, “Hông náam yòo têe năi?” (Where is the bathroom?). While Thai is a difficult language for our Western mouths to adapt to, learning just a few key phrases will really make your journey much easier, and if you have to pee a lot, this is definitely something you should learn how to say!

Practice Makes Perfect!

CHECK YOURSELF: Thai Language Quiz

How do you say, "Where is the bathroom?"

Hông náam yòo têe năi?

"Where is the bathroom?"

OK, this article was a little personal, but I hope it was useful information. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below in the comments section!

Till next week.

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